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Working In America
career centerworking in America

Having spent the last six years working in North America, I am often quizzed during my trips home; how do you get to work in the US, is it different in an American kitchen and how good is the food….

What are the main differences between a European and an American kitchen?
The differences are many. There are not so many layers within the brigade; you are either a cook or sous chef. Cooks are hourly paid - by the minute in most hotels, sous chefs are salaried. You need to find another way to motivate your staff other than waving a long mis en place list at them - they get paid overtime after eight hours. This means as a sous chef a big part of you responsibilities lie with controlling payroll. As a chef or sous chef the way you treat your staff is a big deal. You can not swear at your crew and harassment of any kind is a big deal. European chefs are a little more disciplined and patient with their career goals. Here most new cooks coming out of college want to climb the ladder as quickly as possible. This culture is generated by the fact that cooking schools here can cost up to $40 000 for a two year program - and they need to pay off their loans.

What about the food?
When I first arrived in the States I thought American food would comprise of hot dogs and hamburgers. How wrong I was. The food scene here was buzzing when I arrived and has continued to improve year by year. Chefs here rival the chefs of any other nation. In the US clients are a little less snobby and a little more open minded. This attitude frees up a chef and allows them to take a chance or two. If a dish does not work out then it is not the end of the world.

We have great products to cook with, meat, fish and vegetables to work with. Nearly all commodities are available domestically - this means that they are super fresh when we get them and they are quite affordable - as they are not imported and therefore subject to less taxation.

How easy is it for European chefs to find positions in American kitchens?
When you have a contact in the US it is not so difficult to find a position. Whether you have a connection or not there are several options a chef can use to pursue the opportunity of working in America. The first and possibly the most accessible is the J-1 visa.

The J-1 visa is designed towards the nonimmigrant to come to the US for: teaching, studying, researching, consulting, demonstrating special skills or to receive training. The basic idea is that chefs can come to the US to train and gain new culinary experience. The intention is that when the visa expires the chef then returns to their country of origin and utilizes their newly acquired skills. This is best suited towards a chef with modest experience (five years or so) if your experience is greater than that you may well be denied and you would do better to look at one of the other options.

The next option is the H-1B visa. This visa is valid for three years and renewable for three more. It is directed towards, specialty workers and it is probably the most common temporary work permit available to professionals. The worker must either have a university degree or a combination of education and experience equal to a degree in a field related to the offered job.

The third option is to work for a hotel company that has properties in the US. With the hope of eventually transferring to America utilizing an L-1 visa. An L-1 "intra-company" transfer visa is available to qualified "international managers"(persons with current managerial experience), and specialized knowledge. It is designed to allow professionals working for an organization outside the US the opportunity to work for the same organization within the United States. That means you do not have to work in your home country to use this visa. For example - you could work in a Hyatt hotel in the Caribbean for two years gaining international experience. Then hopefully get transferred to the US.

All the visas are based on an (advanced) offer of employment. To qualify for the J-1 visa you must be working in your country of origin. To find an employer willing to hire you utilizing a J-1 do a web search or e-mail Sartori & Associates they specialize in global career development (tell them sent you). If you are a more seasoned professional then a head hunter should be your port of call with your interest being an H-1. Finally if you are not in a big rush and would like to gain some other international experience before heading to the good old US of A then look for an overseas position in a company that has North America properties. Be focused on an L-1 down the line. My final suggestion would be that which ever option you think suits you best make sure you have a big bag of patients with you - no visa happens over night.......

By Jeremy Emmerson

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